Art-rock icons and Roxy Music founders Brian Eno and Bryan Ferry go head to head with new albums on the horizon.
- Words: Rob Geary
They started together in Roxy Music, the legendary art-rock band that featured Bryan Ferry on vocals and Brian Eno on tape reels, keyboards, and effects. They've pursued solo careers across the years in parallel, and now they're dropping parallel solo records (Eno's Small Craft on a Milk Sea [Warp] and Ferry's Olympia [Astralwerks]) that are as vital as ever. Below we examine the Brian/Bryan parallels and divergences since their mid-'70s heyday.
Brian Eno basically invented the modern rock producer/electronic musician hybrid, editing, playing, and making suggestions that changed the course of important records and important bands forever, while just, you know, turning ambient music from a lab experiment into an ongoing popular concern in his spare time.
Bryan Ferry created the template for the art-rock crooner: smooth, eloquent, mysterious, and cool; equally able to glide far above his music to reach for the heavens or dig deep into wistful blues; equally at home fronting a powerful original band or quietly putting his own spin on well-chosen covers.
Most know him as a faceless name in the credits of every art-rock hit, critical or crossover, from about 1970 on. You probably know him as a pioneering solo electronic artist and thoughtful provocateur. He's rocked the bald-is-beautiful look for years, making black clothes, a shaved dome, and glasses the standard-issue uniform for every serious electronic producer.
The good thing about a timeless look is, well, the fact that it's timeless. The suits were a little shinier in the Roxy days, but, as Ferry and contemporary David Bowie have proven, a well-tailored jacket and skinny tie still work perfectly on stage or off, even into one's 60s.
The New Record
It was practically destiny: Eno delivers a master's thesis in concise, crafted dark ambient/IDM to Warp with Small Craft on a Milk Sea, on a label with which you'd be hard-pressed to find an artist who wouldn't cite Eno as an influence. Tracks like "Horse" reinvigorate the jittery, minor-key mystery of early Aphex Twin and Autechre, which in turn were nods to Eno's implacable missions into early electronics.
Good news for long-suffering Roxy Music fans: Olympia is as close to a reunion as you'll hear, incorporating tracks from reunion sessions a few years back with Ferry's most Roxy-ish solo work in years. It's not all museum pieces, though, as young collaborators Scissor Sisters and Jonny Greenwood add new edge to Ferry's classic art-rock sound, sneaking in touches of modern rock and disco, while Ferry's croon over the original Eno and Co.'s soundscapes is as welcome as ever.
You're welcome, U2, Talking Heads, and hundreds of others for the direct hand Eno played in creating and guiding your most daring and successful records. Oh, and you're welcome, the entire electronic-studio-as-instrument genre.
You're welcome, intellectual British rockers. Ferry stamped out the original prototype of the turbulent emotional center of the genre-shifting art-rock band and made the world safe for all of you. Thom Yorke, Damon Albarn, send your thank-you cards care of Astralwerks.
Festival curator, music theorist, visual artist, and outspoken political commentator. Co-creator of the Oblique Strategies deck, a series of cards with questions designed to spur "lateral" creative thought. It's hard to name a brainy pursuit that Eno hasn't touched on at some point, save a "grand master" rank in chess.
You might know a few of Ferry's ex-girlfriends—most Roxy covers feature them, and model Kate Moss features on Olympia's cover. They're meant to reference classic fashion-shoot styles, a world that has welcomed Ferry, making him an occasional subject as well.
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